Joachim set about tidying up the plates and glasses for the housekeeper, who’d arrive the following morning, and encouraged the Graham siblings to get the last few dances out of their system in the salon. He carried an over-heavy armful of crockery backward through the swinging door to the kitchen and nearly dropped the entire load when he caught sight of an unfamiliar blonde man draped over the old oak kitchen table.
The chap gave a rude hand-gesture. “För i helvete. Du lämnar.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Joachim, bluff and friendly, pretending as though he hadn’t nearly had a heart attack. “I didn’t know any guests were still here.” He lowered the stack of dishes into the sink without incident and wiped his hands on a tea towel before turning back around.
But there was no one there, nor was the door to the kitchen still swinging.
There was no time to be concerned because a howl of indignation came from the living room came such that Joachim would have run to see what was the matter—if his ankle was willing to be run on. An old battlefield injury precluded that, but Joachim was still quicker than most—even with his walking stick—and came into the dining room as Ainsley clutched his nephew by the ear and shook like a terrier with a rat.
“You little beast, I had plans for that icing, and you’ve ruined them, like you ruin everything.”
Joachim took in the scene: the glaze from Ainsley’s birthday cake had been scraped off and piled onto a plate which, judging from the dollop of frosting on Freddy’s nose, the young man had been stuffing his face with.
“It wasn’t me, Ainsley, I swear,” swore Freddy, his face bright with outrage and crystallized sugar.
Trixie tripped into the room on stockinged feet and held one hand over an eye to get a clearer picture. “Ainsley, what on earth?”
Joachim would be happy to say that this sort of domestic scene hadn’t been witnessed before, but it would be a lie. For some reason, Freddy’s mere presence lent Ainsley an air of sulky mortification. Very often because the lad was perversely hell-bent on destroying anything that his uncle held dear.
“I wished for one last refill of bubbly and found your greedy little monster had not only denuded my beautiful birthday cake, but had his face buried in the results.” Ainsley quivered with fury.
Freddy blinked hard and particles of candied rose flew from his lashes. “That’s a lie. I came in and found the icing all scraped off and was wondering why someone would do that, when a hand from behind shoved my face down into it.” He crossed his heart leaving a sticky trail on his shirt.
Trixie switched her hand to the other eye and threw Joachim a beseeching look to defuse the situation.
“Who pushed you?” he asked Freddy, ignoring the stomp of Ainsley’s bare foot on the rose-colored Aubusson.
“The fair-haired man drifting in the hallway most of the evening. Didn’t you see him? He said something I couldn’t make out and then bam! Right into the icing sugar.”
A chill wiggled its way up Joachim’s spine.
“Liar,” mumbled Ainsley again, but he released Freddy’s ear which was bright red.
Freddy reeked of an earnestness that Joachim couldn’t believe was wholly false. “Mummy, I’m not fibbing. And my ear hurts.”
Trixie’s shoulders slumped. “Apologize to Ainsley, darling, and tell him you won’t be such a pest this summer.”
Please let Ainsley not have caught Trixie’s blunder.
But his Dr. Graham had perfect hearing at the most inopportune moments. “What do you mean, this summer, Trix? Joachim and I will be abroad.”
Ainsley’s sister shot a glare at every one of them and then melted into an armchair. “Bother, Freddy. We weren’t supposed to let the cat out of the bag until I was on the steamer with Poppy.”
Too late. Ainsley balled up his fists and wheeled around to Joachim instead of his sister. “What steamer to where with Poppy?”
Joachim was unable to lie, damn them all. However, his mouth wouldn’t quite work, either.
Trixie slipped off her heels. “Poppy and Stuart invited me to Florence with them for a few weeks and as I’ve had such a rotten past few years, Joachim agreed—very, very kindly because he is a lovely man, and you’re lucky he’s stuck with your selfish arse for all this time, Ainsley. You really have all the bloody luck—to mind Freddy for me while I’m gone.”
The calculations in Ainsley’s gray eyes were comically obvious. Except there was nothing humorous about the situation.
Unbelievably, instead of yelling, Ainsley sniffed as though it was of no interest. “Well, we can’t because you heard, we’re headed to Norway or someplace and I’m going to be caravanning around looking for ghosts.”
“Ghost mooses, don’t you mean?”
Really, Ainsley had the right idea about boxing Freddy’s damned ear. Joachim shot the lad a warning glare.
“Moose without the s, Freddy. Like sheep. And let’s not fret; Cocky said it was all taken care of,” said Trixie, rubbing her foot’s arch hard enough that it just might begin to smoke.
Blast them all. Joachim raised his hands and smiled all around though he’d much rather head to their bedroom with the plate of pink icing sugar and a compliant Ainsley who only existed in his fantasies.
“I’ve sorted it, yes. Helle Persson from Tuskers will be traveling along and can spend time showing Freddy the sights of Göteborg whilst Ainsley and I are working during the day.” It was the sort of perfectly reasonable solution Joachim was known for and it was hard not to look smug.
“What? The barkeep from our gentleman’s club? Surely not?” Ainsley’s lip curled in snobbish horror.
Kilty Pleasures #2
“This book was a total delight” — Cat Sebastian, author of Two Rogues Make a Right on Best Laid Plaids
Two years ago, Dr. Ainsley Graham proved the existence of ghosts, and fell in love–hard to top that. But a trip to Sweden to research at a prestigious University for the summer is nothing to sneeze at, especially since his partner, psychologist Joachim Cockburn, will be teaching alongside him. A change of scenery might be just the thing.
Their idyllic trip to Sweden is interrupted by a ghost with a proclivity for rude hand gestures and graphic curse words–and a ghastly history begging to be investigated. Life among the living is complicated, too, by a gruff professor who can’t take his eyes off Ainsley, and an enticing new job offer for Joachim.
What starts as an adventurous trip abroad turns into mayhem, murder, and…a magical moose? And everyone–well, perhaps not the moose–is a suspect in the death of the ghostly young man who brings them together to expose secrets, loves lost, and a crime that will shock them all.
About Ella Stainton
Ella Stainton teaches history’s scandals to teenagers near Richmond, Virginia. She’s lived in most Mid-Atlantic states where you can catch blue crabs, as well as four years in Sweden, and a year in Scotland (where she visited lots of haunted castles with her scientist father). She doesn’t mind eating Ramen all year if it means she can hop on a plane during summer break, and has visited around 30 countries. Which equals a lot of Ramen. Ella has four fur babies and four without fur (or children, as she likes to call them). She particularly likes ’80’s Eurotrash synth music, glitter eyeshadow, and men in kilts. Even better if they are all three together.